10 հոկտեմբեր, 2017 15:54

Ünal Çeviköz: Five Scenarios Turkey and Armenia Can Normalize Relations

Veteran Turkish diplomat Ünal Çeviköz suggests five possible scenarios for normalization of Armenia-Turkey relations. Çeviköz is the president of the Ankara Policy Centre and one of the authors of the 2009 Armenia-Turkey protocols. He presented a paper at an international conference on Armenian-Turkish relations organized in Yerevan by the Eurasia Partnership Foundation and the Center for Civilization and Cultural Studies of Yerevan State University. The conference was held on September 18. Below is an excerpt from Çeviköz’s paper.

Why is normalization between Turkey and Armenia important?

Eight years after the signing of the two protocols in Zürich, Turkey and Armenia still fail to establish diplomatic relations. This situation presents an anomaly for the stability of the South Caucasus and needs to be addressed constructively and with open mindedness. It is obvious that there is lack of mutual trust and confidence between the leaders of the two neighbouring countries. However, lack of dialogue does not help to overcome the difficulty and will not contribute to regaining trust and confidence.  

As the normalization between Turkey and Armenia fails to take hold, the security situation in the South Caucasus remains fragile. There is no possibility of substantial multilateral cooperation schemes and almost all such attempts exclude Armenia. The two major energy pipelines, namely Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline bypass Armenia. The railroad connection which will make the South Caucasus an important passage from west to east is connecting Baku-Tbilisi-Kars and is envisaged to establish an uninterrupted link from London to Beijing. This project also bypasses Armenia.

The most significant multilateral scheme between Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan which also excludes Armenia envisages a cooperation process which focuses on defence cooperation, harmonization of foreignsecurity policy, energy and transport cooperation, as well as business, trade and commerce between those three countries. In their first meeting which took place in Trabzon, Turkey, on 8 June 2012, the trilateral declaration stated  “determination to build a better future for the region characterized by peace, stability, cooperation and increasing wealth and welfare”. (7) (“Trabzon Declaration of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Turkey”, 08 June 2012, Trabzon.)  

 It is hard to conceive the development of a favourable environment for security and stability in the South Caucasus by alienating Armenia. One of the essential prerequisites for correcting this anomaly is certainly the resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh problem. The other is normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia.

A number of reasons require a more positive approach to the resolution of this impasse and both Turkey and Armenia need to look at their common future with pragmatism.

First, Turkey and Armenia, after having failed to ratify the two protocols they have signed in 2009 lost their mutual trust and confidence. Although Turkey’s commitment to the normalization process was seen as a genuine effort by Armenia, the linkage of the development of Turkey’s relations with Armenia to the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is considered to be a preconditioning and is flatly rejected by the Armenian leadership. Turkey, in that respect, is thought to have shifted back to its pre-2008 policy, namely to pursue a foreign policy based on preventing Armenia’s efforts to make the recognition of the events of 1915 as genocide. In time, this perception has the tendency to be entrenched in the Armenian leadership and will be difficult to eradicate. Consequently, any future attempt by Turkey to revisit the normalization process will risk to be taken genuinely by the Armenian side because of this skepticism. The longer the current situation persists, the more structural that skepticism is likely to become.

Second, the current situation will never give Turkey the opportunity to develop a comprehensive, lasting and stable foreign policy vis-a-vis the South Caucasus region. In 2008, immediately after the Russia-Georgia war, Turkey had come forward with an initiative for enhancing peace and stability in the South Caucasus region, namely the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform (CSCP). With this initiative, Turkey had been able to bring Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia around the same table for three consecutive meetings at Deputy Foreign Ministers level. This had been possible simply because Turkey at the time had increased its image as an impartial regional actor because of the continuation of its normalization process with Armenia. Today, Turkey has lost this moral high ground.

Third, it is also important to underline that Turkey can contribute to the resolution of the NagornoKarabakh problem constructively only if it maintains an image of impartiality in the region. Although Armenia insists on the differentiation of the two processes, namely the normalization with Turkey and the resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh problem, it is also a fact that this stance mainly emanates from the perception of Turkey in Armenia. Turkey’s lack of diplomatic relations with Armenia does not give Turkey the perception of a reliable honest-broker in the facilitation of this protracted conflict.

It is important to recall that during the continuation of normalization talks between Turkey and Armenia, talks between the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss the resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh problem also gained momentum. This, in a way, shows that any positive development in the Turkish-Armenian relations is also likely to have positive impact on the resolution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, no matter how unrelated these two issues seem to be.

A fourth reason is related to obligations of both countries to protect the rights of their citizens in their respective territories. Lack of diplomatic relations and having a closed border cannot and does not prevent people to people contacts between Turkey and Armenia. On the one hand, indirect trade relations continue. This requires frequent travels of Turkish businessmen to Armenia and vice versa. On the other hand, there are many Armenian citizens who travel to Turkey for tourism or for seasonal labour opportunities. Such social contacts increase the likelihood of need for consular services in the respective countries. Unless the two countries come to terms with an understanding to address these issues, unexpected incidents may result with undesired consequences and cause each country to fail to protect the rights of their citizens in the other’s territory.  

Today, Armenia has a diplomat as its permanent representative to the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organisation at its headquarters in Istanbul, but this Armenian diplomat’s tasks are limited to the jurisdiction he has only under the parameters of the regional organisation he is assigned to. He cannot perform consular services and cannot act as if he represents a bilateral diplomatic, or for that matter consular, service in Turkey.  

Finally, the anomaly of non-normalized relations between Turkey and Armenia remain as one of the last vestiges of the long forgotten Cold War era. As the bipolar system of the Cold War collapsed, the iron curtain disappeared and countries in Europe all agreed that they would never allow the reappearance of new dividing lines between the peoples of the common European home. At a time when the United States and Cuba have also embarked upon a process of establishing diplomatic relations-although Donald Trump is now trying to reverse this process-it is incomprehensible to have a closed border between Turkey and Armenia in the heart of Caucasus at the centre of Eurasia.

Normalization between Turkey and Armenia will be beneficial not only for the two countries but will also become an inspiration for the facilitation of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution. Consequently, the region will enjoy a new dynamism for the enhancement of east-west and north-south relations.